Competent children? Minors' consent to health care treatment and research

Soc Sci Med. 2007 Dec;65(11):2272-83. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.08.005. Epub 2007 Sep 14.


This paper concentrates on controversies about children's consent, and reviews how children's changing status as competent decision makers about healthcare and research has gradually gained greater respect. Criteria for competence have moved from age towards individual children's experience and understanding. Uncertain and shifting concepts of competence and its identification with adulthood and childhood are examined, together with levels of decision-making and models for assessing children's competence. Risks and uncertainties, methods of calculating the frequency and severity of risks, the concept of 'therapeutic research' and problems of expanding consent beyond its remit are considered. The paper ends by considering how strengths and limitations in children's status and capacities to consent can be mirrored in researchers' and practitioners' own status and capacities. Examples are drawn from empirical research studies about decision-making in healthcare and research involving children in the UK.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Comprehension*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / psychology*
  • Mental Competency / psychology*
  • Minors / psychology*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Research Subjects
  • Therapeutics
  • United Kingdom